In December 2005, Mastro auctions offered an impressive selection of football memorabilia from the famed Duke Hott collection. Several magnificent game used jerseys were up for sale, including some from the likes of George Blanda, Gale Sayers, and Hugh McElhenny. When the phones stopped ringing and the keyboards fell silent, appropriately impressive prices were realized for these pieces of NFL history. One somewhat surprising result was noted: A Jeff Van Note 1970’s Atlanta Falcons signed game worn road jersey fetched an eyebrow-raising $4,376; a very nice price for ‘70’s finery from a non-Hall-of-Famer. While he may never be enshrined at Canton, Van Note was a 5-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman during his solid 18-year career. Perhaps the allure of owning a Van Note jersey is due in part to the fact that his number 57 is one of only four to be retired by the Falcons.

Retiring a player’s number in the NFL is clearly one of the highest honors a team can bestow upon a cherished former player. NFL teams have retired a total of 126 jerseys. Predictably, some of the oldest franchises have retired the most numbers, such as Chicago (the most, with 13), and the New York Giants (next highest with 11). Some of the most storied teams have been frugal with the practice. The Green Bay Packers have retired only five jerseys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have only retired one. Two of the most successful franchises ever, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, have not retired any numbers of former players.

Hall-of-Fame players, 79 to be exact, have worn most of the numbers retired by NFL teams. In about a dozen instances, teams have retired a player’s number due to illness or death. Pat Tillman of the Cardinals and Korey Stringer of the Vikings are the most recent examples of this. In a peculiar move, the Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12 in honor of their fans, “the 12th man”. The Detroit Lions are the only team to have retired one number (20) in honor of three players: Lem Barney, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.

Although the league discourages the practice of retiring numbers, it does not stand in the way of a team that wishes to do so. It should be noted that many teams unofficially retire numbers of significant former players. The Cincinnati Bengals have not reissued numbers 14 and 78 (they belonged to Ken Anderson and Anthony Munoz respectively) since those players retired. Roger Staubach was the last Cowboy to wear number 12. These are just a few of many examples of this throughout the league.

During 2005, in a strange case of “unretirement”, the Denver Broncos re-issued former quarterback Frank Tripucka’s number 18 for the first time in over 30 years. The team had long believed number 18 to be officially retired, but Broncos P.R. staff have found nothing to corroborate such a gesture. The Broncos’ 2004 media guide listed Tripuka’s number 18, along with John Elway’s number 7 and Floyd Little’s number 44, as the team’s three retired jersey numbers. The 2004 NFL Record and Fact Book had listed the same information. Tripucka said that former part owner of the Broncos, Gerald Phipps, called him after the 1963 season and told him his number 18 was retired. However, no formal announcement or ceremony followed. Tripucka still owns one of his old Broncos jerseys, white with brown numerals; a rare and desirable early Broncos style.

Acquiring the game worn jersey of a player whose number has been retired is certainly not impossible, but in most instances it will require a deep pocketbook. Since most, but not all, retired numbers belong to Hall-of-Famers, collectors will need to be prepared to pay accordingly. But since the vast majority of collectors aren’t prepared to shell out $10,000 for Joe Namath’s retired number 12, it might pay to look for bargains among those retired jerseys from players not in the Hall. Over the past few years, collectors have had a chance to obtain at auction numerous retired jerseys from non-HOF players. For Vikings fans, examples of jerseys from Mick Tingelhoff (number 53) and Jim Marshall (number 70) have been sold for between $1700 and $3000. Phil Simms’ retired number 11 New York Giants jerseys have sold for $1500-$2000. Last year a 49ers Dwight Clark example (number 87) sold for just over $1000. And jerseys from the Jets’ Joe Klecko (retired number 73) have been had for under $1000.

Collecting game used NFL jerseys is not a cheap endeavor, especially with regard to collecting players with retired numbers. This is an area that requires due diligence with respect to researching any potential purchase, since jerseys of notable players are more likely to be targets of fraud or misrepresentation compared to jerseys of “common” players. It’s also an area that requires some serious investment; most game used jersey collectors learn to focus on quality, not quantity. A retired jersey can easily be the cornerstone of any collection of NFL memorabilia. The value is not simply economic—such a jersey is likely a good investment—but also intrinsic, since you’ll possess a unique artifact not to be replicated by that team again.

Perhaps that Jeff Van Note jersey was a good buy after all.

Here’s a complete list of retired jerseys by franchise:
Arizona Cardinals: 8 Larry Wilson, 99 Marshall Goldberg, 77 Stan Mauldin, 88 J.V. Cain,
40 Pat Tillman
Atlanta Falcons: 10 Steve Bartkowski, 31 William Andrews, 57 Jeff Van Note, 60 Tommy Nobis
Baltimore Ravens: None
Buffalo Bills: 12 Jim Kelly
Carolina Panthers: 51 Sam Mills
Chicago Bears: 3 Bronko Nagurski, 5 George McAfee, 7 George Halas, 28 Willie Galimore,
34 Walter Payton, 40 Gale Sayers, 41 Brian Piccolo, 42 Sid Luckman,
51 Dick Butkus, 56 Bill Hewitt, 61 Bill George, 66 Bulldog Turner, 77 Red Grange
Cincinnati Bengals: 54 Bob Johnson
Cleveland Browns: 14 Otto Graham, 32 Jim Brown, 45 Ernie Davis, 46 Don Fleming, 76 Lou Groza
Dallas Cowboys: None
Denver Broncos: 7 John Elway, 44 Floyd Little
Detroit Lions: 7 Dutch Clark, 20 Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Lem Barney, 22 Bobby Layne,
37 Doak Walker, 56 Joe Schmidt, 85 Chuck Hughes
Green Bay Packers: 3 Tony Canadeo, 14 Don Hutson, 15 Bart Starr, 66 Ray Nitschke,
92 Reggie White
Houston Texans: None
Indianapolis Colts: 19 Johnny Unitas, 22 Buddy Young, 24 Lenny Moore, 70 Art Donovan,
77 Jim Parker, 82 Raymond Berry, 89 Gino Marchetti
Jacksonville Jaguars: None
Kansas City Chiefs: 3 Jan Stenerud, 16 Len Dawson, 28 Abner Hayes, 33 Stone Johnson,
36 Mack Lee Hill, 63 Willie Lanier, 78 Bobby Bell, 86 Buck Buchanon
Miami Dolphins: 12 Bob Griese, 13 Dan Marino, 39 Larry Csonka
Minnesota Vikings: 10 Fran Tarkenton, 53 Mick Tingelhoff, 70 Jim Marshall, 77 Korey Stringer,
80 Cris Carter, 88 Alan Page
New England Patriots: 14 Steve Grogan, 20 Gino Cappelletti, 40 Mike Haynes, 57 Steve Nelson,
73 John Hannah, 78 Bruce Armstrong, 79 Jim Hunt, 89 Bob Dee
New Orleans Saints: 8 Archie Manning
New York Giants: 1 Ray Flaherty, 4 Tuffy Leemans, 7 Mel Hein, 11 Phil Simms, 14 Y.A. Tittle,
16 Frank Gifford, 32 Al Blozis, 40 Joe Morrison, 42 Charlie Conerly,
50 Ken Strong, 56 Lawrence Taylor
New York Jets: 12 Joe Namath, 13 Don Maynard, 73 Joe Klecko
Oakland Raiders: None
Philadelphia Eagles: 14 Steve Van Buren, 40 Tom Brooksheir, 44 Pete Retzlaff, 60 Chuck Bednarik,
70 Al Wistert, 92 Reggie White, 99 Jerome Brown
Pittsburgh Steelers: 70 Ernie Stautner
St. Louis Rams: 7 Bob Waterfield, 29 Eric Dickerson, 74 Merlin Olsen, 78 Jackie Slater, 85 Jack Youngblood
San Diego Chargers: 14 Dan Fouts, 19 Lance Alworth
San Francisco 49ers: 12 John Brodie, 16 Joe Montana, 34 Joe Perry, 37 Jimmy Johnson,
39 Hugh McElhenny, 42 Ronnie Lott, 70 Charlie Krueger, 73 Leo Nomellini,
79 Bob St.Clair, 87 Dwight Clark
Seattle Seahawks: 12 the 12th man
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 63 Lee Roy Selmon
Tennessee Titans: 34 Earl Campbell, 43 Jim Norton, 63 Mike Munchak, 65 Elvin Bethea
74 Bruce Matthews
Washington Redskins: 33 Sammy Baugh

Skolnick, Ethan J. “Dolphins To Retire Csonka’s No. 39.” Miami Herald 5 June 2002.
McHugh, Eric. “They’ll Be Immortalized–Someday.” The Patriot Ledger7 Dec. 2002, pg.54
Associated Press. “Titans Retire Matthews’ No. 74 During Halftime.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch
9 Dec. 2002, pg. C12
Maiocco, Matt. “49ers Will Retire Lott’s No. 42 At Next Game.” The Press Democrat 5 Nov. 2003,
Pg. C1
Sipple, George. “Sanders, Sims, Barney: 20 Plus 20 Plus 20 Equals Three Lions Heroes.”
Knight Ridder Tribune News Service. Washington. 25 Nov. 2004 pg.1
Nickel, Lori. “Packers Retire Reggie White’s Jersey Number.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
31 May 2005.
Schwab, Frank. “Broncos Pull Out An Old Number: Tripucka’s 18 Now Back.”
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO) 7 June 2005.
Fryer, Jenna. “Panthers to Retire No. 51 of late Sam Mills.” The Advocate 1 Aug. 2005, pg.3E
Gosselin, Rick. “Jersey Day in the NFL.” Dallas Morning News 11 Aug. 2005.
Magee, Jerry. “Receiving His Due: Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Lance ‘Bambi’ Alworth
Will Have His No. 19 Retired Today at Halftime of Chargers Game.”
San Diego Union-Tribune 20 Nov. 2005, pg. C2.
Maxymuk, John. Uniform Numbers of the NFL. McFarland & Co., 2005.